Toronto researchers are studying seniors in order to assess their interests and their needs in creating self-driving cars suitable for the elderly.

Phil Davis, 81, is a volunteer for a study with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

He said his first car was a 1950 Dodge. Davis believes that driving is still a vital part of his life, but it is getting harder.

“I do like driving although I have to admit, the older I get, maybe the less I like driving under bad conditions,” he said. “On rainy nights, I’d just as soon give it over to someone else if I could.”

The study is sponsored by AGE-WELL, a national organization focused on new technologies that help the aging population.

Researcher Shabnam Haghzare, who is working on the study, is using a unique simulator at the Toronto facility to help test older drivers.

“We’re investigating how different factors may influence older adults acceptance of fully automated vehicles” says Haghzare.

The Driver Lab at the Toronto institute has the ability to simulate all kinds of adverse driving conditions, from rain to nighttime glare. It’s mounted on a frame that allows the car to physically move instead of relying on visual projections.

Psychologist and Senior Driver Lab Researcher Jennifer Campos said the implications of autonomous vehicles for seniors could have an important impact on their lifestyle.

“Fully autonomous vehicles have tremendous potential for older adults,” Campos said. “They will create the opportunity for people to stay mobile, stay active, stay independent for as long as possible. And that’s particularly important when people are faced with age-related conditions that may compromise their driving safety.”

But first researchers need to determine if older drivers will accept the technology.